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Success with Starts

Toys, tips and tricks to get you in the water faster

Stuart Kahn , Head Coach, Davis Aquatic Masters | Vice Chair, Coaches Committee | October 30, 2012

If you’re a competitive Masters swimmer, then you barely have enough time for swim practice, much less starts. To make the most of whatever time you do have, here’s a quick checklist of toys, tips and tricks for successful starts.

Racing dives should be practiced under the supervision of an experienced coach, in a minimum pool depth of 4 feet, and a preferable depth of 6 feet or greater.

Probably more than any single factor, a successful dive hinges on your ability at the starting signal to explosively uncoil from a bent body position into a streamlined body position in the span of about 1.5 seconds. One simple method of preparation for this action is to go through dry runs on land.

Stand on the pool deck with your feet in starting position and bend down into a mock start position. From there, have a coach (or fellow swimmer) give the start command. Jump in a vertical direction, mimicking a horizontal streamline. Remain in your streamlined position upon landing back on the pool deck. You should land with your feet close together, buttocks tight, chin on chest, eyes down and arms behind ears in a locked elbows, straight position.

Use caution if you have spine, leg, or lower body joint problems. Consider doing this exercise from the pool bottom in 3-4 feet of water – it helps cushion the landing.

The key to success with this exercise is to have a partner assess your tight position by trying to bend your knees, pike your waist, and separate your arms at the wrists. If you can maintain a tight position in this pose, you are prepared to move onto the starting block.

If you aren’t experienced with diving off the blocks, you may find yourself executing with myriad styles and forms as you make your first few attempts. If you are experienced, you may have some deficiencies in your mechanics. Either way, these toys, tips, and tricks should help improve your start and get you off on the right sequence for a faster swim.

Toys for Success

  • Bent knees? Use a pull buoy. Place the pull buoy between your thighs and proceed with a normal start making sure to squeeze the buoy and point your toes.
  • Flat dive? Use a hula hoop. Float the hoop on the surface about 4 feet away from the block and dive through the center of the hoop.     
  • Slow reflexes? Have someone stand behind you with a kickboard in hand and they rotate that kickboard back and away from the block. On the start signal that person swings the board toward the pool and you, the swimmer, should be gone before the board passes over the block. Once the suggestion is made, your helper probably doesn’t even need to swing the board. Just the threat is enough to motivate you to get off the blocks quickly!
  • Short dive? Use a bungee cord or shepherd’s hook stretched across the lane at the desired distance in front of the block. Stretch out and dive over the object.

Tips for Success

  • Close your eyes to focus on sound. Removing one sense helps heighten others.
  • Dive forward, look backward. This is the best suggestion for keeping goggles on.
  • Hook your thumbs to keep a streamlined arm entry intact on impact.
  • Lock all seven major joints before entering: ankles, knees, hips, wrists, elbows, shoulders and neck.

Tricks for Success

  • Standing broad jump is great for discovering leg muscles and thrust.
  • Pencil jumps, either on land or into the diving well, work for learning how to maintain a tight-body streamline on entry.
  • Start from 6 inches back from front of block to cure pike dives or thigh-slapping entries.
  • Use relay windup to initiate ballistic motion of arm swing.
  • Instructions to “streamline, lean, fall and dive on your own” is a beginning drill to overcome anxiety of the full start.
  • Dive and glide for distance reminds you that you are doing starts, not stops.

USMS Wave Seperator

About the Author—Stuart Kahn

Stuart Kahn is head coach of the Davis Aquatic Masters, the largest masters club in America. Over the past 35 years, Stu has coached high school, junior college, college, USA Swimming and now Masters swimming. He is Vice-Chair of the USMS Coaches Committee, a 2011 and 2012 coach at the High Performance Camp, and the 2012 recipient of both the Pacific Masters and USMS Coach of the Year Awards. He was also a presenter at the 2012 ASCA World Clinic and is a regular contributor to STREAMLINES and SWIMMER.

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